Posts Tagged ‘election’

Facebook Has an Algorithm Problem

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

facebook thumb downAlgorithms are cool. I get it. I mean, I get that they’re cool, not how they work. I like to think that, if I had to, I could probably work really hard to understand them, but I dropped out of engineering school to do this. No regrets.

In fact, writing about life in all its complexities has given me an appreciation for what people — real people, not some numbers-crunched algorithm people — have to deal with on a daily basis. It has exposed me to the value of compassion, compromise and common sense.

Our universal dictionary, Wikipedia, defines an algorithm as “an unambiguous specification of how to solve a class of problems. Algorithms can perform calculation, data processing and automated reasoning tasks.”

But they can’t, obviously, do ambiguous.

I’m thinking about algorithms because Facebook, an Internet empire built on them, recently said it was going to hire 1,000 people to review ads in response to the embarrassing revelation that users’ news feeds during the 2016 U.S. presidential election were awash in political ads run by Russians, undoubtedly using their own algorithms to target various groups in an effort to influence the outcome. Facebook said Russians bought about $100,000 in ads — with rubles — but apparently the social media giant’s algorithms detected no ambiguity afoot with Russians arguing to protect Americans’ Second Amendment rights or stirring up anti-gay feelings, not in Moscow, but in the American heartland.

Congress is investigating. That’s good. It should do something this year. But Facebook has more than a Russia problem. It has become the major source of news for millions of Americans, yet its news feeds have been shown to be awash in fake news. Lots of really fake news, not Trump “fake news,” which is real news.

Facebook — actually Mark Zuckerberg — is talking about becoming a more responsible source of reliable news information and hiring “content moderators” to review, well, content, and a lot of additional people to look out for violent content on the site. Swell. 

If you will permit me a self-serving observation, he’s talking about hiring people to exercise judgment over what appears publicly on Facebook because: (1) algorithms can’t think or feel like people and (2) this is how responsible newspapers have operated forever. Just saying.

In the interests of full disclosure, I also will say I have had my own personal experiences with Facebook algorithms. Recently, I received an e-mail telling me that an ad I wanted to run boosting a column on a Facebook page I administer was rejected because it had too much copy. It didn’t say the copy was boring or poorly written or even offensive. Just too much of it.

OK, I’ve had editors tell me the same thing, but I was also never prepared to give an editor ten bucks just to run the column. Oh yeah, the ad in question was proposed in July. I got the rejection e-mail on Halloween.

Then there’s the friendly way Facebook greets me every day with news of the weather in Phillipsport. “Rain is in the forecast today, Robert.” Thank you. If I Iived in Phillipsport it would matter a lot more, but it’s a half hour drive and there’s a big mountain range between us and my page unambiguously says where I live. Can’t the algorithm read?

But the incident that really convinced me that Facebook had an algorithm problem was its response to a complaint I filed regarding a post that was being sarcastic about the dotard-in-chief. I am guilty as charged of leveling (much-deserved) sarcasm at the Trump, but this cartoon had him in a coffin with a bystander saying to Melania, “‘Sorry about the assassination, Mrs.Trump, but he knew what he signed up for.”

As a “content moderator” for newspapers for several decades, I would never let such a tasteless, provocative, potentially dangerous item to be published. I told Facebook the same thing. I said they should delete it. It encouraged violence at a violent time in our history.

The algorithm replied that the post did not violate Facebook’s standard of, I don’t know: Acceptability? Appropriateness? Decency? Who sets this pathetic standard?

I use Facebook a lot. It has many wonderful benefits. But “automated reasoning” is not a substitute for good old, gut-instinct common sense. It’s the best way to connect people with people. Maybe people cost a little more than algorithms, but I think Zuck can afford it and there are a lot of laid off editors looking for work. If it’s not fake news that he’s serious about running for president some day, he’ll be glad he did it.

I’m also curious to know what Facebook says if I decide I want to pay to boost this post. I wonder if they’ll let me run a picture of Zuck. Can I even call him Zuck?

Stay tuned.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Some Thoughts on an Election

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Deepak Chopra ... with a message for post-election blues

Deepak Chopra … with a message for post-election blues

Some random thoughts upon awakening on Nov. 9, 2016. …

I know it happened, but it feels surreal. We just gave a petulant child control of the most powerful military machine ever assembled. Here’s the key to the nuclear weapons closet. Don’t use it. Not sure he has heard that last part. …

Remember when all those people thought it would be funny to vote for Sanjaya on “American Idol”? He couldn’t sing worth a lick, but he made it to the finals, all the way to number 7, thanks to Howard Stern and a joke website. Lotsa laughs. Sanjaya might have won if there weren’t some people with real talent on the show. … That’s it for now. This has to be a mental health day. …

OK, I’m back. It’s Thursday. Still surreal. Can’t think about it for too long. Deepak told me this morning – well, not me personally – that if I change, my world will change. Intellectually, I get it. My perception of reality depends on my intent and my awareness. if I want to remain sane and live with a modicum of serenity, I need to focus on things that I can do something about that will also provide some positive feelings  and shut out things that will do the opposite. Take care of my world. ……

I read that California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada voted to legalize recreational marijuana. That ought to boost the U.S. economy. Did you know California’s economy is the sixth largest in the world? Maybe it will put some DEA agents out of work, but that war on drugs hasn’t worked anyway. It could make that wall on the Mexican border unnecessary. …

wish I could say I’m sorry to see Hillary go, but I’m not. Worst campaigner ever.  She should’ve gone to Standing Rock. She should have fired Debbie Wasserman. If I  were a millennial, my intent and awareness would be totally focused on Elizabeth Warren in 2020. …

My friend, Ketchup Bob (he counts ketchup as a vegetable), told me over coffee Wednesday morning that at our age if we woke up in good health it was a good day, even if it was raining. That’s the kind of uplifting message he gives me: You’re old, but you’re here. Drink your coffee and be grateful. … Intent and awareness. …

I’m a few months older than Bernie Sanders, so I don’t think he’s got another run in him. But I think he’s going to be keeping tabs on a lot of people’s intent in the Senate for the next four years and that is a source of hope. Take your vitamins, Bernie. …

I’m not reading any political stuff on Facebook for a while because obviously nobody knows a damn thing. And it is not exactly a wellspring of sanity and serenity. …

Oh, I erroneously reported a couple of weeks ago that Soupy Sales had died. Well, he had, but he did so in 2009. Sorry about that. Sloppy reporting. Got it off Facebook. …

Moment of clarity: There’s no cure for stupidity. …

Starting to feel a little better.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Birth Control and Pure Ignorance

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

By Jeffrey Page

Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee

Jerk: A person regarded as disagreeable or contemptible.

The requirements for election to the House of Representatives aren’t complicated. You have to be 25 or older, a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, and reside in the state you wish to represent.

I have a proposal to amend the Constitution. It would read as follows: “No person who is a jerk is allowed to serve in the House. Nor as senator. Nor as a governor. And certainly not as president. The United States recognizes that all people are created equal, but just as we wouldn’t allow a popular cocker spaniel to assume public office, nor would we allow a jerk to hold public office.”

The event that prompted my outburst was a pitch that came in the mail from Planned Parenthood asking for money and reminding recipients of some of the more outrageous comments by four men with bizarre ideas about what degree of lunacy the American people will accept from their elected representatives.

We have seen these quotations before, but there they were again, clumped in a tidy one-page display that left me breathless.

You remember this stuff of course.

— Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., declared at a hearing that women’s voices were “not appropriate or qualified” to participate in discussion of birth control matters. This is truly remarkable because if 51 percent of the population is not qualified to discuss birth control, new and dangerous paths are automatically opened. Remember when the majority were not allowed to vote at all in South Africa? What else might Issa see as unfit for the input of more than half the population? He didn’t say. But if women shouldn’t be at the table for talk on abortion and other forms of birth control because only they can get pregnant, you have to wonder if Issa would bar the 49 percent from the table when the subject is prostate cancer or low testosterone levels or male breast cancer or male osteoporosis. Issa didn’t say.

— In the wrangle over whether employers who offer medical coverage should be required to make birth control part of the benefits package, Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas said, “[Refusal to include birth control in workplace health coverage] is not denying women’s rights. If a woman then wants birth control, go work somewhere else.” This is a puerile response unworthy of half the legislative branch of our government. By suggesting that women quit their jobs – especially in the economy’s current state – and go marching out to an array of nonexistent jobs, Brownback lets everyone know the truth: He doesn’t give a hoot in hell about the real “facts of life.”

— Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and sometime candidate for president, shocked the nation with this moronic, sexist, and almost obscene observation: “ … women are helpless without Uncle [Sam] coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido … without the help of government.” Newsflash, governor: When a woman gets pregnant, there’s usually more than one libido involved.

— Finally there was Todd Akin, the genius from Missouri, who informed the nation about aspects of human reproduction that no one knew existed. To the question of the importance of making abortion available to women who get pregnant during rape, Akin said: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down.” “That whole thing?” What is this man talking about?

Election Day is just 40 days away. Reject jerks seeking public office.

The Modern Greek Tragedy: Chilling

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Greece's deus ex machina has been turned off.

By Bob Gaydos

It has been quite a while since what happens in Greece has mattered in a grand-scheme-of-things sort of way. Heck, it’s been a couple of millennia, give or take a few hundred years here and there, since the birthplace of democracy has had superpower status. For a very long time, Greece has muddled through, more or less contentedly, on grapes and wine and nostalgia for its days of glory.

But apparently even classical ruins and beautiful Mediterranean scenery aren’t sufficient to keep tourists and history buffs visiting Greece often enough to offset the reality that when hardly anybody pays taxes, the stage is set for more ruins — and these won’t be anywhere near as architecturally meaningful as the ones the world has come to know and love.

Greece today is a mess. A train wreck. It is a country on the verge of a financial meltdown and almost nobody — even other European countries who are its partners in the Eurozone — is saying it’s too big too fail. The deus ex machina that has come to its rescue before is on the verge of being turned off. Olympus is on hiatus.

“And so what?” we say in our typical American way. “I can still get baklava.”

Perhaps, but what if the baklava factory (just go with the metaphor) goes belly up? And what’s a Greek salad without feta cheese? And, for the sake of serious argument, what about the Greeks themselves, especially the ones most vulnerable to a total economic collapse? That would be older Greeks, who face sizable cuts in their pensions and a serious lack of health care resources and the youngest, the ones who see no future in their country because the grownups have made a mess of it.

If you see some parallels with the situation in the United States today, you see where I’m going. But the threat goes beyond older folks having to tighten their belts and younger folks having to face an uncertain future. The threat — and the lesson for Americans — lies in what many members of those disaffected groups did recently when Greeks elected a new government.

They went nuts.

Sunday, Greek voters rejected what for them are centrist parties — those whose leaders had agreed to a rigid fiscal bailout plan with Greece’s creditors — in favor of, well, no party. Worse, in the parliamentary system with representatives of many political parties running, Greeks gave 15 percent of the seats in the Hellenic Parliament to communists and neo-Nazis, split pretty much evenly. Somehow, the two rejected political philosophies that clashed in Word War II are now expected to work together and with others to save Greece. Herodotus must be rolling in his grave.

The neo-Nazis, known as the Golden Dawn Party, are by far the scarier proposition because they believe what they believe fanatically. They do not believe the Holocaust happened. They do advocate placing land mines at Greece’s border to keep out immigrants. They have threatened reporters who wrote honestly about their meetings, their Nazi salutes, their swastika-like flag, their selling of Mein Kampf, their suspected links with the Greek secret service and police and the fact that they demanded reporters in the room stand up when their party leader entered.

Yes, we have communists and neo-Nazis in America, but these days, even with our fractured political system, they almost never get elected to public office. On Sunday, many Greeks didn’t seem to care who was elected. Many of them are still upset about waiting until 65 to retire and paying taxes. No party came close to a majority, leaving the government in chaos as different groups try to form coalitions.

Significantly, the votes for communists and neo-Nazis came heavily from the old and the young. The fearful and the fed up. The young, especially, having little sense of what Nazis, neo or otherwise, really stand for, seem to have decided that since the adults messed it up, it doesn’t matter who is in charge.

But it does. In every country.

On a less-frightening scale for now, one of America’s two major parties is finding out what happens when mainstream citizens, middle-of-the-road Americans, the people who pay their taxes and form a community, stop paying attention to who runs for office and don’t bother to vote. The angry and fearful go from being loud nuisances to taking over. They dominate the political debate. They run for office. They reject any thought of working with members of other parties and they threaten those in their party who don’t always agree with them with retribution — well-financed campaigns to drive them out of office.

They also occasionally make outrageous claims that go unchallenged — for example, that some 80 Democrats in the House of Representatives are actually members of the Communist Party.

Some might say this is a bridge too far, that what happened in Greece could never happen in the United States. I truly hope that is the case. But it has also been said by wiser men and women than I that the only thing necessary for the voices of fear and intolerance to succeed is for the voices of hope and reason to remain mute. I would add, and to discard their vote.

 bobgaydos@zestoforange.com